* Teachers, Emanuel disagree on where negotiations stand
* Chicago's Democratic mayor has championed education reform
* Teacher performance evaluation is key issue
By Nick Carey
CHICAGO, Sept 11 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and
unionized teachers argued publicly on Tuesday over how to
improve struggling inner-city schools as negotiations remained
deadlocked on the second day of a strike that has closed the
nation's third-largest school district.
The two sides could not even agree on how far apart they
were in the bitter negotiations over a new contract for some
29,000 teachers and support staff.
Speaking at a school where children affected by the strike
are being supervised and fed for half a day, Emanuel repeated
that an agreement with the union was close. He reiterated that
the school district believes the two issues in dispute are how
to evaluate the performance of teachers and giving principals
the authority to hire teachers.
The union disputed his description of the state of the talks
and said the two sides were far apart.
"The Chicago Teachers Union has 49 Articles in its contract,
to date, we have only signed off on six of them," union
spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a statement issued as
Emanuel spoke. "It is not accurate to say we are extremely close
(to an agreement)."
With no sign of an early end to the strike, the patience of
parents was tested as they juggled alternative child care
arrangements and work.
Many parents stayed home from work with their children on
the first day of a strike affecting some 350,000 children. Some
who could afford it hired caregivers, while others used
relatives or friends, or sent their children to centers around
the city for temporary supervision.
"We're kind of winging it, to be honest," said Eve Ludwig, a
parent outside one Chicago elementary school. "The kids stayed
with their dad yesterday. Today they're with me. We're hopeful
this will be resolved this week."
Chicago school officials said only about 18,000 students
took part in a half-day of "safe and engaging programming" on
Monday at 144 public schools, supervised by principals,
volunteers and non-union employees.
Three more schools will be open for half-day care on
Tuesday. About 52,000 students at publicly funded but non-union
charter schools are attending classes as usual.
The face-off in President Barack Obama's home city is the
biggest private or public sector labor dispute in the United
States in a year. The stakes are high for both supporters and
foes of a national movement for radical reform of urban schools.
The Chicago dispute immediately became an issue in the U.S.
presidential campaign with Republican candidate Mitt Romney
criticizing Obama for his support of unions.
"I choose to side with the parents and students depending on
public schools," Romney said in a statement on Monday as he
visited Chicago for campaign fundraising events.
Obama was careful not to get in the middle of the dispute
between his former White House chief of staff, Emanuel, and a
union that has supported Democrats with money and efforts to get
out the vote in elections. White House spokesman Jay Carney said
the president wanted the two sides to settle the matter quickly.
Since he became Chicago mayor in May 2011, Emanuel has
championed education reform, successfully negotiating a longer
school day for Chicago children.
The most contentious issue is teacher evaluations, which
Emanuel insists should be tied to performance of students, and
which is at the heart of the national debate on school reform.
Emanuel is proposing that Chicago teachers be evaluated
based on a system that would rate teachers in several
categories. Administrators would observe them in the classroom.
Students would be asked about teacher strengths and weaknesses.
And, most controversially, many teachers would be assessed based
on their students' performance on standardized tests.
The union fiercely opposes the proposed evaluation system,
arguing that many Chicago students perform poorly on
standardized tests because they come to school hungry and live
in poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods. They also say that class
sizes are too large to teach children effectively.
The proposed evaluation system would take into account the
social situation of students, according to the school district.
But opponents of that approach say the methods of evaluation are
Eric Wagner, a striking high school history teacher
picketing with about 100 other teachers at Federico Garcia Lorca
elementary school on Tuesday, said teachers stood united and
firm "for a fair contract."
"It's amazing that Romney and (Republican vice presidential
nominee Paul) Ryan have come out in support of Rahm Emanuel," he
said, as passing cars honked horns in support of the picketing
teachers. "Rahm has more in common with Mitt Romney than he has
with the citizens of Chicago."
The union scheduled another rally in downtown Chicago on
Tuesday, after police estimated that as many as 10,000 teachers
and supporters poured into the streets on Monday afternoon to
Chicago Public Schools are offering teachers an average 16
percent pay rise over four years and sweetened benefits such as
paid maternity leave and picking up most of the costs of
pensions, which critics say already gives the union too much.
The last teachers strike in Chicago, in 1987, lasted 19 days
and there was concern that the labor fight could become as
entrenched as the one in the neighboring state of Wisconsin. A
new law there severely reducing public sector union power
prompted an unsuccessful year-long campaign to recall Republican
Governor Scott Walker.
"It is not going to turn into the situation that happened in
Wisconsin. It is not likely to be that vicious," said Dick
Simpson, a political science professor at the University of
Illinois at Chicago.